Professor Inbok Rhee is one of the most popular professors among KDIS students. His amazing background and dynamic teaching methods make his classes some of students’ favorites.
Professor Rhee studied Politics and Development Studies in the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. However, London was nothing more than a random fluke. Initially, he was planning to study in the USA, but due to mix up with his visa situation, he had to look for another option, and the UK was the best choice for him.
In the UK, he discovered what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
“I was in the UK to learn English and I have to say, just learning the language wasn’t too fun. However, the school where I was enrolled was part of a larger university, and I had the opportunity to audit some classes. For me, that was a real eye opener, because this university specialized in issues related to developing countries, and after attending some classes, this had a tremendous influence on what I wanted to do after.”
Studying in the UK also allowed him to travel around Europe.
“London is a rich cultural city and being there allowed me to travel around Europe. I visited many countries like Germany, Spain, Portugal, Norway, France, and so many others. The flights were often early in the morning (like 4 am), so my friends and I used to sleep at the airport the night before so we could get up early and catch our flight. That’s one of the sacrifices you have to make when you are young and want to get cheap flights,” he adds.
After he finished his adventure in the UK, he later moved to New York City, where he started his master’s degree at Columbia University.
After his first semester at the university, he realized that his future was not as a practitioner, but rather as an researcher. He wanted to study problems in depth instead of going out and directly solving them. This is how after his first year, he began to prepare for his Ph.D. In Political Science, and eventually pursued his further degree at the University of California in San Diego.
Although Professor Rhee grew up in Seoul and lived in other major cities like London and New York City, his love for a more tranquil environment began in San Diego, California.
“Once you are sitting on the beach, watching the ocean, you realize that this is where you want to be. The beach was just minutes from my office. The people also were nice – the professors, my friends – I really enjoyed my time there.”
After finishing his studies, he did not necessarily planned to return to Korea, since the job market was limited and very competitive in some ways, so he thought about staying in the United States or applying for positions elsewhere.
But fate and luck had a different opportunity in store for him. KDI School was the only position he applied for in Korea, as it was the only position he was interested in.
“I heard so many good things about the school, not just the diversity of the students and the learning environment, but also about the faculty culture. At KDIS, the faculty members work hard to create an egalitarian and democratic culture, as well as mutual respect regardless of age or position; this and the fact that the school heavily values both teaching and research made the school attractive for me.”
Despite having lived outside the country for about 10 years, these factors were what motivated him to return to Korea.
He never thought he would be teaching students from so many different countries, but it is a process he enjoys and his experiences with teachers in the US and UK allowed him to introduce more interactive teaching methods and create an active learning environment with the students in KDIS.
Leaving aside his identity as a professor, he is also the father of two beautiful children, whom he considers one of his greatest achievements. He tries to spend his free time playing with and spending quality time with them.
In his free time, he also loves to read, if you can’t tell already. In his office, there are shelves with stacks of books on a range of subjects, from social sciences, humanities, and languages, to literature. Though he has fell off the wagon a little, he enjoys running and hopes to get back to being more active.
We asked some unexpected questions as well:
Q) As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
As a kid, I don’t know, but when I was in high school, I thought I could and wanted to become a renaissance man, so I wanted to study philosophy, history, literature, and arts to have broad knowledge about something. But I wasn’t thinking about politics.
Q) Is there’s anything that you’ve never done that you would like to do in the future?
I want to go skydiving, and even if I’m afraid of heights, I would like to feel how it is to jump off from an airplane.
Q) If you had the opportunity to have a dinner with any person in the world, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
I grew up living with my grandparents, and both of them passed away when I was in college. I would like it if they could meet my children and their grown-up grandson.
Q) What was your biggest dream as a child?
Some people have really vivid memories of their childhood, but I think I don’t (haha). But probably new toys! Or to have the ability to stop time. I could learn or make anything instantaneously or even teleport in the eyes of others. I thought I was a genius by thinking that, until I realized that I’d also age much faster, too!
Q) If you could travel to any part of the world, what it would be and why (alone, without COVID or any worries)?
Kenya, or the west coast of the US because my sister lives there, or I would want to just buy a ticket to a random destination.
Q) If you could have any superpower what it would be and why?
Stop time, definitely, but only if I don’t get older (hahaha).
Q) If you could travel in time, would it be to the past or the future?
To the future, because no one knows about the future. It would be scary but interesting.
Q) Do you have a favorite movie?
Well, I have a problem picking my favorite things, but I like Korean gangster movies, like “New World”, or “The Show Must Go On”. I also liked “Internal Affairs,” a movie from Hong Kong where you don’t know who is the good and the bad guy. Oh, talking about time travel, I also have to mention a British TV series called “Doctor Who.”
Q) What essential things do you always need in your backpack?
A laptop or an iPad, chargers, noise-canceling earplugs (most of the time), small notepad and pen, hand sanitizer, and, of course, a face mask.
Q) Can you please tell me the first word that comes to your mind when you hear these words?
Students – Scary
KDIS – Excellent
USA – Complicated
Kids – A lot of work
Korea – Bittersweet
Family – Complicated
Numbers – Dry
Q) Do you have any advice for KDIS students or the ones who are about to graduate?
Grad school, besides just studying, is also about making relationships and hanging out and having fun. Don’t wait until you’re about to leave to try to create relationships, because the relationships you can create in school can be lifetime treasures.
So, I want to encourage the students to be more active, get to know each other, and just have a lot of fun together, because at the end of the day, people make this experience different.